Across the Great Divide

They like to wear women's panties, girdles, and bras

Also at the gathering is Jeff, or "Dawn Renee," a nurse and cross-dresser who was in the closet for the first year of a four-year marriage. She may have stayed there too had her wife not discovered his Website while surfing the Internet. "It had all these pictures of me dressed as a woman. There was nothing pornographic, but still..." says the attractive brunette, who is dressed in librarian chic -- dark business suit and thin-rimmed glasses. "I wouldn't say my wife accepts my cross-dressing, but she is supportive, and we compromise. I dress only once or twice a month and keep all my things in one closet. I shave my legs but nothing else, because that's part of our agreement."

When the issue of family acceptance arises, Joanna, the big-boned blonde in tangerine, begins to pace. A pre-op transsexual who has occasionally cross-dressed since she was 15, Joanna says she long resisted the urge to become a woman. In middle age, she became an alcoholic and three years ago attempted suicide. But officers found and resuscitated her. "That's when I admitted what a mess I was," she says, smoothing her wig with a large hand. "I'd always known, but I denied my true self and drank instead. As soon as I discovered what I really wanted, I went to my doctor and got hormones."

The Boca Raton marketing firm where she works was surprisingly accepting. "When I first came out and began to cross-dress, the women in the office brought me cards and presents. There are a couple of guys who still don't look at me, but that's their problem." Her family, especially her three grown kids, didn't take the news as well. "Only one of them will even speak to me," she says.

Pam, another pre-op transsexual, shoots Joanna an empathetic glance. "Don't even consider this lifestyle if you're not prepared to lose everything -- your family, your friends, and your job," says Pam, who has long brown tresses and a Coppertone tan. Before coming out in 1992, she spent seven years living as Peter during weekdays at the office and Pam on weekends. When she came out, her bosses at a Boca Raton direct mail company were supportive. "They even encouraged me to get the operation they knew I wanted," she says. But three of her five grown kids disowned her. "They talk to me on the phone but won't let me come visit them because they still want me to be their dad."

Although Joanna and Pam were accepted at work, Sandra, a post-op transsexual with a neat blond wig and glasses perched at the tip of her nose, was not so lucky. Sandra was fired from her advertising job in Bangor, Maine, soon after she began transitioning from male to female. "I tried to explain my situation to my boss, but he wouldn't meet with me, and then he fired me," Sandra says. "I sought legal recourse, but the human rights ordinance in Maine had just been repealed, thanks to the Christian Coalition."

This law, which protects the gay and transgender communities from discrimination, is similar to the measure Miami-Dade countians will vote on September 10. The issue has SFGC members worried. "Jesus, they're trying to take us back to the days of Anita Bryant!" says Diane, formerly Dave, a pre-op transsexual who is a member of the Broward County Democratic Executive Committee. In response to Diane's words, a sea of blond and brunette wigs nods in agreement.

Then someone brings up another body of law -- the one that deals with traffic. State troopers sometimes don't, well, get those in the midst of transitioning. "It's all about how you present yourself," says Gloria, an outgoing post-op transsexual and Shirley MacLaine look-alike who's easily the most attractive -- and convincing -- transgender female in attendance this night. Before transitioning, she worked in auto salvage. "When I got pulled over once as a woman, my license still showed a man," Gloria boasts. "The officer spoke with me but then let me go."

"Oh, you probably just batted your eyes," a clearly envious voice shouts from across the room.

Gloria explains that she didn't have the surgery because she felt she was a woman trapped in a man's body. "I simply loved women so much I decided to become one," she says matter-of-factly. She still loves women, which brings up a point the group is eager to get across: Being a cross-dresser, or a transsexual, does not mean one is gay.

As Yvette, a matronly blond, post-op transsexual explains, "Sex is between your legs; gender is between your ears."

"Yeah, sister," shouts a brunette cross-dresser from the corner of the room.

"Exactly!" agrees Dan, a female-to-male pre-op transsexual. Dan, who plans to get sexual reassignment surgery to become a full-fledged male, is looking for a nice woman to marry. But there's a problem. "People think I'm a butch lesbian and try to fix me up with lipstick lesbians. So I have to explain that I consider myself a straight man, not a gay woman," he says, picking at a plate of donut holes. Mild-mannered and dateless since 1988, Dan is holding out for Ms. Right. "I need to get things corrected before I can start dating," he laments.

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